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Airport boost for Peel Holdings

RECORD NUMBERS of passengers using Liverpool Airport and the first flows of rental income from its flagship asset, the Trafford Centre retail development, which opened on 10 September, helped Peel Holdings the Manchester- based property group to increase profits by 7.5 per cent to pounds 6.25m in the six months to the end of September, in spite of a pounds 1m jump in net interest charges to pounds 16.8m.

Rental income from other property developments offset a drop in profits from the group's operations at Ellesmere Port, which have been badly affected by a slump in traffic for the fuel distribution depot now owned by Shell and for the glass and building industries along the Manchester Ship Canal.

The figures were much in line with forecasts but the shares, which have fallen more than 30 per cent from the mid-summer peak, edged up only 1.5p to 496.5p yesterday.

Analysts were disappointed at a relatively high figure for empty properties in sites where refurbishment and redevelopment projects are under way.

The chairman, John Whittaker, warned that "relatively benign" conditions in the first half could be followed by a marked slowdown in the UK economy, while there are now clear signs that occupiers, particularly in the retail sector, are becoming more cautious about entering into new commitments.

But a new general and business aviation facility at Liverpool Airport is due to open next spring, new flights to Barcelona, Belfast, Geneva and Malaga will start in the first half of next year and analysts expect a rising rental income from the Trafford Centre to flow through strongly in the second half, lifting full-year profits excluding investment sales to pounds 11.1m, with earnings of 9.5p a share, rising to pounds 18.1m and earnings of 15.8p in 1999-2000 as rent-free periods come to an end.